“Frat-boy diet” discovery leads to ultimate prostate protection

I’ve written before about the government’s failed campaign to promote beta-carotene as an anti- cancer solution. The more my colleagues at USDA’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center and I delved into the research, the clearer it became: There was no correlation between dietary or blood levels of beta-carotene and cancer.

In other words, beta-carotene was not the cancer savior the National Cancer Institute promoted it to be.

But something good did come out of the research my colleagues and I conducted some 25 years ago…

We found that while beta-carotene doesn’t protect against cancer, other carotenoids—such as lutein and lycopene—do.

At the time, no one had ever heard of these carotenoids before. Of course, since then they’ve become much more well known. In fact, lycopene has taken center stage for being highly protective against prostate cancer. And it really should be at the top of every man’s prostate cancer prevention priority list—followed by a few other specific nutrients. There’s also one very important step you should take when supplementing with these nutrients to ensure you get their full protective benefits.

I’ll give you all the details in just a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at lycopene.

Pizza, burgers, fries…and healthy prostates?

When we performed our original study on dietary consumption and blood levels of carotenoids, we were initially amazed at the high levels of lycopene among young college students from our local state school, the University of Maryland. When we broke this down further, we found the students had very high consumption of some seemingly “unhealthy” foods— like pizza, hamburgers, and French fries. But all of these foods had one thing in common: tomatoes.

The pizza, of course, was topped with thick tomato sauce. And the burgers and fries were typically doused with a hefty serving of ketchup.

In nature, of course, tomatoes are the primary abundant food source of lycopene. And when they’re heated and concentrated during the manufacturing process to produce ketchup, tomato sauce, or other tomato-based products, the natural lycopene actually becomes more concentrated and remains bio- available.

Contadina tomato paste was famous for getting “eight great tomatoes in that little, bitty can.” And tomato paste is essentially like a concentrated lycopene supplement.

Even lycopene’s “side effects” are benefits

Since our discovery of lycopene at the USDA, numerous studies have demonstrated that this nutrient not only reduces prostate cancer risk, but also heart and circulatory disorders, immunologic dysfunction, and general inflammation.

Granted, not all the studies on lycopene have been positive. But this probably represents differences between using a therapeutic “dose” and an ineffective level of consumption. For example, population studies show that a minimum daily intake is essential for disease prevention. Some studies have seen positive results with doses as low as 3-5 mg per day. But others have shown more promising results with daily consumption of 10-12 mg.

The most recent study, published in the journal Neurology showed a decreased risk in stroke with just 10 mg of lycopene per day.1 More than 50 percent decreased risk, to be precise. A truly remarkable feat.

Especially when you consider how easy it is to get 10 mg of lycopene. Even without supplements. A wedge of watermelon, for example, has about 12 mg of lycopene. And a cup of tomato juice has even more, of course, at 22 mg of lycopene.

Even the most effective drugs hardly come close to this magnitude of benefit. And they’re usually associated with negative side effects.

Meanwhile, the “side effects” of lycopene are a simply more benefits. For example, studies completed at the University of Kentucky show that elderly individuals consuming 30 mg of lycopene had significantly enhanced preservation of memory.

And lycopene was enough to keep a substantial segment of the population free-living and independent—without requiring an extended-care facility. Such a simple step would result in substantial savings in health care costs. Not to mention a great improvement in the quality of life for senior citizens.

In other studies, eyesight problems, including macular degeneration, were significantly decreased by the consumption of lycopene.

Lycopene even appears to offer some “anti-aging” and cosmetic benefits. The consumption of lycopene has been shown to decrease the development of wrinkles. And it may be able to diminish your reaction to sunburn.

So this simple nutrient can protect you from harmful UV rays without toxic and dangerous “sun blocks.” As an added benefit, it still allows you to get enough sun for healthy vitamin D levels. And getting optimal vitamin D is important for cancer prevention, including prostate cancer.

Four more nutrients to round out perfect prostate support

Speaking of nutrients to support prostate health, here is the complete list of my specific recommendations:

Lycopene       5 – 15 mg
Selenium        100 mcg
Vitamin D       2,000 IU
Vitamin E             50 IU

One important note: All of these nutrients are fat-soluble—which means taking them with an oil increases their absorption and their effectiveness.

So I also recommend taking a fish oil supplement, 1-2 grams per day. If you absolutely can’t bring yourself to take fish oil, at the very least, you should opt for some other source of omega-3 fatty acids. And don’t forget to eat plenty of fish, tomatoes, and other food sources of the above nutrients. See the box below for a list of good options.

Remember, people eat foods, not nutrients. Tomatoes, and other foods with lycopene also have an extensive array of other antioxidants and phytonutrients. It is important to remember that other carotenoids and flavonoids in foods often have synergistic benefits.

Of course, how foods are grown is also important to preserve their nutrient content, as well as their taste.

Harvesting your health

I admit that I’m more than a little skeptical of the so-called “organic” movement—at least since big government and big industry have stepped in. I wrote about this topic at length in my Daily Dispatch last year (8/22/12, subject line: “Big Food takes over the organic market,” and 10/1/12, subject line: “Deep into organic.” You can access these articles for free on my website, drmicozzi.com.)

And a recent study from Stanford University Center for Health Policy has cast more doubt on “organic” farming. Researchers examined data from 237 previous studies. They found that when it comes to certain nutrients, there is not much difference between organic and conventionally grown foods.2

However, studies have shown that the levels of lycopene in organic tomatoes are at least double those in conventional tomatoes.3,4

These days, it’s easy to substantially improve your health with in-season consumption of locally grown tomatoes and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables. They not only taste better, but will yield long-term health benefits.

But as the harvest season winds down this year and we head into winter, you can keep up your healthy levels of vitamin D, lycopene, and the other nutrients mentioned above with high-quality supplements.


Prostate protection on your plate
Nutrient Food source
Lycopene Tomatoes, tomato products (ketchup, tomato sauce, tomato   paste, tomato juice), guava, watermelon, pink grapefruit, cherries
Vitamin D Swordfish, salmon, tuna, sardines, liver, egg yolk
Selenium Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines,

shrimp, ham

Vitamin E Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanut butter
Omega-3 fatty acids Fish oil, salmon, mackerel, cauliflower, chia seeds, flax   seeds, walnuts


The surprising origin of this Italian staple

Tomatoes were originally called tomatl and cultivated among the Aztec in MesoAmerica (modern central Mexico). When the Spanish brought them back to europe in the 1500s, they were initially considered poisonous as a member of the Solinacea family which includes other plants such as “deadly nightshade.” believe it or not, tomatoes did not appear on an Italian menu until the 1700s. But by the time mass immigration of Italians to the U.S. occurred in the later 1800’s, tomato sauce had been firmly established as an “Italian American” dish.


1. “Serum lycopene reduces the risk of stroke in men,” Neurology 2012; 79(15): 1,540-1,547

2. “Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review.” Ann Intern Med 2012; 157(5): 348-366

3. “The Impact of Organic Farming on Quality of Tomatoes Is Associated to Increased Oxidative Stress during Fruit Development,” PlosONE 2013; 8(2): e56354

4. “Lycopene Content Among Organically Produced Tomatoes,” Journal of Vegetable Science 2006; 12(4): 93-106